October 22, 2007

Book banning

Sadly, No! points us to a Focus on the Family discussion about "Banned Books Week." Suffice it to say, they don't like that term and ask, "Is Banned Books Week about censorship or parents’ rights?"

This does seem like a fundamental question. Jillian (the blogger from Sadly, No!) answers:
"Let’s help them out here, shall we? Banned Books Week is about censorship. If you don’t want your child to read a book, then you simply forbid them to check it out from the library. If they disobey you and read it anyway, then you have a parenting problem. "
I remember reading "Catcher in the Rye" simply because it was on a banned book list, so perhaps I am not the one to address this. And not being a parent, I can't be too flip about this, but it does appear to be censoring for all, as opposed to saying "I don't want my kids to read this." It reminds me of school prayer where it sure seems like Christian parents (who already get to pray with their kids at home) are not so much wanting them to pray, but that heathen kid from down the street. And maybe it is my lack of parenting experience that makes me ask this, but why do parents fear that their kids will read one book and then reject their parental influence? Does it work that way?

Seriously, I want to know.


JoeG said...

Streak -
The answer is insecurity. Parents these days are so insecure about their parenting skills and so insecure about getting their own little Jane or Johnny upset that they push the blame and responsibility on someone else. Don't want your kid to read a book? Get it banned. "Sorry, Jane, but it's not just you. Nobody is allowed to read the book." Parents are fearful. Parents refuse to discipline their kids because they don't want their kids to not like them. Sounds sad, but I can't tell you the number of times my wife and I have seen or heard this. We discipline our son, you should see the looks we get sometimes! It's like we were beating him in public when all we were doing was verbally reprimanding him for acting inappropriately. But what they don't see is that little Jane and Johnny are turning into little monsters while my son (some bragging ahead) is an extremely well behaved and mature 4 year old. He's not perfect by any stretch and can act up with the best of them! But he knows how to behave in public. We can (and do) take him to a movie theater or restaurant without fear of him disrupting anyone. And we encourage him (and will moreso as he gets older) to read, ask questions, be curious, learn. And if his opinions are different than ours, so be it. Most parents take that as rejection, which is utterly ridiculous. We take it as a compliment, that our son has a mind of his own and knows how to use it independently.

ubub said...

JoeG may well be right about insecurity or fear or whatever we may wish to call it, because when I search for a principle to base this on, I see nothing.

Consider book banning along with other issues from recent posts, particularly the matter of public assistance vs. private charity. It seems to stem from what we might broadly (repeat: broadly) characterize as the liberal position that government is a tool to the conservative view that government is the problem.

So, bear with me as I comment here on a previous post. There is a legitimate argument to be made that people need help but private individuals and organizations, rather than the government, are the best mechanism for doing so. I get that. I wonder if it is sufficient for meeting actual needs, but I get the point. The principle is about the role of government versus churches, charities, and individuals in addressing poverty.

Now, many of the same folks who wish to address poverty as a private matter wish to make morality a public one. The same inefficient, ineffective government that can't administer even the simplest programs is supposed to be better positioned than private individuals or churches to save us from inappropriate or sinful material. Really? What is the principle here? It seems to be about simple control, especially if couched in moral or spiritual terms.

However, if this issue is addressed in secular terms, and we might accept a portion of the book banners' arguments that much of this material is actually harmful, then we might consider book bans as akin to consumer protection. This is where we again run into trouble, however, because many of the same folks, or at least those who are part of their political coalitions, generally oppose consumer protection measures as anti-free market, anti-job, etc.

The point seems to be balanced roles, but then of course, I am certain that we would argue vociferously about where the balance point is.

steve s said...

I really can't say, since I am not one of those parents that has a problem with certain books. Much of this is probably due to the fact that my child is only 4 and hasn't really pushed the envelope at this point.

In my previous career (family therapist), I saw kids that were exposed to material that was meant for adults (mostly movies) and did see some harmful effects. OTOH, I read some stuff as a kid that I shouldn't have and suffered no apparent ill. The question is what do we get worried about and what do we just shrug off? What role should gov't play and what should be left entirely up to parents?

"If you don’t want your child to read a book, then you simply forbid them to check it out from the library. If they disobey you and read it anyway, then you have a parenting problem." This is just stupid or incredibly naive. There are plenty of things that are restricted to minors (guns, booze, porn, tobacco) that they will stll try and obtain. It is not necessarily bad parenting if they do. The question should be where to draw the line at what should not be presented to kids.

ubub, your comments reminded me of a joke about how Republicans wanted to regulate what goes on in the bedroom and Democrats want to regulate everything that goes on outside the bedroom. Obviously, this is not true, but it shows that many on either side of the spectrum are comfortable with different kinds of regulation. Occasionally, as in the case of video games, you will get some bipartisan support for banning.

I am not afraid of one book messing up my child. I'd like to think that she will be a critical thinker and not so easily swayed. OTOH, I see or have seen some stuff that makes me sad. My wife teaches second grade and on the second day of school had a 7 year old tell another kid that he was going to stab her in the "fu#*ing eye with his pencil" if she didn't shut up. Not only shouldn't kids say this, but that phrase shouldn't even be in their vocabulary. I know that it is very unlikely that he got that from a book, but it builds on the probably false notion that kids are being exposed to things that they are incapable of dealing with.

ubub said...

The liberal regulator in me is glad that the student from your story was armed only with a pencil, but clearly I agree that the pencil would not be to blame if indeed the student were to stab his classmate in the "fu#*ing eye." Clearly, pencils don't stab people in the "fu#*ing eye", people stab people in the "fu#*ing eye."

steve s said...

Very true, though the custodian that was carjacked in the parking lot of my wife's school last week probably would have been better off if she had her pencil. Unfortunately, it is drug free, pencil free zone.

; )

Bootleg Blogger said...

Streak- I'll throw in- I agree with Steve's comment on the "parenting problem" comment. I had great parents. I'd hate anyone to blame my episodes of deviant behavior on them. They taught me well- I decided to do some things along the way that were quite contrary to what I was taught. Rather than them having a parenting problem I had some living problems and needed to be (and was) held responsible for my misbehavior. I had some friends several years ago whose first two kids were the angels everyone dreams about. The parents of said angels were quick to attribute the angelness to their stellar parenting and were quick with advise for anyone whose child was not behaving well. Then God gave them their third child who was a hellion from the moment he was yanked from the womb. Interestingly, we didn't get much advice from them once #3 came along.

ANYWAY, regarding book banning- Talk about your tired, worn out messages. If you want to bond with the memory of some of history's worst characters just start banning books. Of course the one-up on that is to have a book burning in the church parking lot.

I don't think censorship is the way to go. I will say that I AM a fan of age-appropriate use of material. One way that's come to light lately is choice of movies at my son's school. Occasionally movies are used as a reward for kids. We've gone around a bit with them on what's ok for ten year olds to see. I don't want the movies banned or burned, just available for the appropriate ages. Books are a little different in that the movie is shown without the child's choice in the matter. A book is something they've picked out and checked out for themselves. There are some similarities, though, in the sense that I wouldn't want my child to be able to check out an R rated movie at the library so why would I want him to get the same material in written form. I'd be satisfied if the school just asked for parental permission on some material. That way I'm not banning your child from reading if you think it's fine- just mine. WIth that said, there's books in my house that I wouldn't be thrilled about my son reading at his current age, but for now he's just not interested.

SO, I guess I see this as both a censorship issue AND a parental rights issue. Use common sense and have age appropriate material available with parental involvement where needed.


grandma1 said...

The trouble today is getting someone to read. It doesn't matter what material. The present students do not read.

Tony said...

but why do parents fear that their kids will read one book and then reject their parental influence? Does it work that way?

I know I'm a little late chiming in, but here goes nothing.

Whenever I read of book bannings, I always think of that 80's movie Footloose. The townspeople are burning books and John Lithgow (the preacher) comes and breaks it up and I think his quote can sum this up. He said something like this, telling the people to stop, go home and think about what he said. Holding a book, he said, "The enemy is not in here. It's in here." He then pointed to his heart.

I think Steve is on to something when he says, where do we draw the line? And when parents draw a line, how do they anticipate public and school libraries to assist them, if it is even possible?

I argued at my blog against the book And Tango Makes Three, a pro-homosexual book targeted at children, being on library shelves where children have access to it. I argued against though it is pro-homosexual that no children's book should introduce them to sexuality of any kind. That is something that I believe should be up to parents. (I also protect my children from violence of any kind.)

But as the Bootlegger pointed out, some parents may not mind their kids being exposed to that kind of stuff. No set of parents parent the same way.

I do expect obedience out of my children and that if I tell them they are not ready for something then they are to trust my judgment, that they will be exposed to it in due time. So I wouldn't be so bold as Steve to say that Jillian is naive; I would expect my kids to honor my choice for them if I told them to stay away from alcohol and tobacco, too.

This isn't authoritarian parenting, just protecting my children from harmful influences until their hearts and minds are formidable enough to respond to it appropriately. I have my kids focus on what they can have rather than what they can't have.

So the problem is the heart and its natural tendency toward that which is wayward. Though I do feel a twinge of discomfort in saying that a book can (or should) be "banned" (I argued that Tango should be moved to the adult section), I think it more naturally falls in the hands of parents who desire to work with a library to ensure their children's needs are met on any given intellectual, emotional, and spiritual level.

SafeLibraries.org said...

Banned Books Week has also been called NATIONAL HOGWASH WEEK by Thomas Sowell. See what you think.

Streak said...

I forgot I was a card carrying member of the elite intelligentsia. Sigh.

mary said...

Card? I never got a card....

ubub said...

Me neither, and I keep waiting for my newsletter, too.

Streak said...

I told you it was coming soon! Stop hounding me.